"The Red Hand Of General Dragutin, part 3"
by Wil Alambre
Vaso's voice is a staccato of soft x-rays in my ear,
panicked transmissions from his position on Volsci's moon.
"Enemy sighted, General! Several columns of astro-apis
drones moving toward your position. They're coming from
metropolitan centers near you. And from forested areas
directly to your... wait, more contacts coming out of...
sir... sir, they're everywhere! They're *everyone!* The
entire planet's compromised!"
I don't need him to tell me. I can feel them. The muttered,
muted drone of a million beating wings. Causes the floor to
vibrate under my boots. The air's heavier and warmer. I
don't need to look outside to know this observatory, this
facility, hell, most likely this whole mountain range is
literally buried in giant monster bees.
"Sir! I have a clear shot, sir! Permission to engage?"
Whoa! No! I look up through the unshuttered slot of the dome
and hold up a closed fist to the night sky. "No no, not
yet," I send back. "Hold your fire. Hold fast. This... this
is more complicated than it looks. I'm not really
Bet I confused Vaso with that. No time to explain. He
doesn't see what I see. The mass of golden gel on the floor
right in front of me, settling into the shape of a small
woman. Their queen and authority, transmitting through a
nanonectar communication avatar. The bees'll defer to her
before trying to tear me apart. I hope.
She's a meagre thing. Crouched down on the ground. Fetal,
trying to protect herself from whole room. Her subjects are
still buzzing. That bass note vibration from the
surrounding... everywhere. She doesn't seem comforted by it.
Her hands clamped against her ears. Her eyes squeezed shut.
Wait. They called her 'Sybilla'. Sybilla. That'd make this
an afterswarm. Okay. That makes sense. Okay. If I can calm
her down, I might be able to...
"SZTOP IT!" she yells at empty space. "Sztop it! Stop! Stop
Okay, I *really* need to calm her down. "Shh. Shush. Okay,
its all right," I lie to her. "Its just you. Its just us."
Her eyes snap open, startled at her surroundings. "I'm...
I'm in the observatory again. How did I...?" Rambling.
Disoriented. This has got to be recent for her. "They took
me to the canyon... they were all around! They were just
here! Trying to smoother me." Rising to a kneeling position.
Getting a good look at her form. Her current form. Herself.
"What's wrong with my hands? Why can I see through them?
What did they do?"
"You're not here. This, uh, this isn't you." This sort of
thing was never my strength. "Its a transmission gel. Its
the way... the way *they* communicate outside their species.
You're somewhere else. You're still wherever you were, but
you're talking to me here." I need an analogue. What would
her people have had at this level of world development?
"It's, ah, it's like a walkie-talkie?"
She looks over her shoulder. Listening to something
elsewhere but not hearing it. She flinches. In fear.
Avoiding a blow. Then she's confused when nothing's there.
Poor woman. Still in shock. "How long has it been?" I ask
her pointedly. Got to keep her focused on me.
"How long? How long has it been?"
"Since you were... since they came."
"A day. I think its been a day? Maybe two." She looks at her
hands again, closing and opening them, seeing the sparkling
lines inside. "I was here, in the observatory. I work here.
I was looking through the scope and I saw them coming. There
were so many..." She jumps to her feet, stares at the night
sky. "They came *right* at us. They came right at *me*. They
were everywhere. There was nothing we could do. No where we
could go. They were like... a wave. Like..."
"A swarm?" Uh, stupid of me. I need to avoid re-enforcement.
"Yes! A szwarm! A monsZter szZwarm! Oh! Oh gods, they were
everywhere." She clutches her head, memories overcoming her.
"They killed everyone. They stabbed them and killed them.
And the dead changed into more and went to do the szame.
Stabbing and changing and szZtabbing. Everyone's gone!
Everyone's gone... everyone..." looking at me again, then at
her hands again, "...everyone but us. Why did they spare us?
What's... *wrong* with us?"
"They're a highly eusocial species. They work as a whole,
but they all have their place in a morphologically discrete
hierarchy. They instinctively follow a queen mother. If they
don't have a queen mother, they... they make one. Force one.
"I'm one of them? They made me one of them?"
"Yes. Well, no. No, you're *more* than that. More than
they'll ever be. You're their *queen*. At least for now.
Until they find a better one."
"Queen?" Confused. Confused is better than scared at least.
I wonder how much oxytocins are involved in the
transformation process. Never did pay attention to the
medical details of this species. Kind of regretting it.
"And what about..." she backs away from me, "Are you...
Hm? Oh! "Ha! No. No, they don't have male leaders."
"Then how did you survive?"
"I'm not of Volsci. I just got here."
Through the haze I see realization come over her round face.
A mix of awe and astonishment when she recognizes my
uniform. From the murals on the walls outside. "You're one
of them! Our old science-gods! You're a solar wizard! Oh
gods, its been so long. I... I wasn't sure. I didn't know if
I believed or ...!" She wavering, unsure if she should
prostrate herself or grab at me. She's fascinated.
Not sure if this makes this any better, though. As her
excitement grows, the buzzing noise around us is getting
angrier. This situation's an explosion waiting to happen.
Need to find out what I can, before the swarm's enmity gets
the better of their new queen's wonderment. "You said you
"Yes! Yes! I'm the lead investigator here at the
observatory. I admit, I was never one for attending mass,
but I was in *love* with the stars. I watched them, we all
watched them, just as the scientific apocrypha
taught us to!"
"And what did you see there?"
She bends over at the waist, like a great invisible weight's
jumped on her back. Looks like she's about to collapse from
exertion and panic. Some unseen hand at the other end of the
transmission's twisting her head. Whispering in her ear. She
shuts her eyes again. As *hard* as she can. The swarm's
trying to take control. Bully her into their hierarchy.
"Hey! Listen to the sound of my voice! Stay with me. Stay
here." Not sure how long I'll have her here. "We taught
your kind to observe space for us. Very specific areas of
space, very close to you. What was there? What did you see?
I need to know."
Her eyes open up reluctantly, like big wells of confusion.
"Yes. Its important. Did you keep notes? Recordings?
Reports? What I'm looking for would have happened recently."
Her brow furrows. "*You* need? Where were you when *we*
needed you?" She stands up straight. She's being helped up.
Supported. Damn. I think I'm out of time. "Where were our
science-gods when monsztersz blanketed my planet? When my
friendsz and family died?"
I set my shield to full strength. Stepping away from her.
"Listen to me. Don't listen to them. Listen to me, here.
Their thoughts are alien poison. I mean that literally. They
want you to be like them. I need you to be here. I need you
to be *you*."
"Don't talk like you know me! Don't act like we owe you
anything!" Her face is a fearful snarl. She's trying to
assert herself against whatever's around her. By lashing out
at whatever's around her. "We believed in you. We
*worshipped* you. We changed our entire culture for you. And
now you need us? You need me? You dog! You cur!"
Vaso's back in my ear. "Sir, I don't know what you're doing
in there, but it doesn't look like they're liking it!" The
thrumming around me's intensifying. Unifying. Shapes spill
out of the halls and doors. Huge and yellow and gold and
black. Beating wings and spear length stingers. Crawling up
the walls and on the massive curved dome. She's angry, and
she's making them angry.
"You're here demanding favoursz? While you breathe the
rotten air of my dead world? You, whosze love I'm szupposed
to prize more than... these? My unburied people? The people
you corrupted? That you abandoned? We needed you! We needed
you and you weren't here! And now they're gone! GONE!"
The numbers keeps growing. Covering every surface. All with
a look in their multi-faceted eyes that I know all too well.
That barely restrained, murderous look. Across a hundred,
hundred horrid faces.
Its a look thats mirrored on their leader. That meekness,
she had, its being drowned in animal fury.
Don't do it. Don't do it. Don't fall in...
"They're gone, but they're not forgotten. Not by ME. Not by
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
More bee stuff. More than I expected to be writing when
I started putting this series together. I blame it on
Wikipedia. The more I read up on bees, the more little
tidbits of trivia I discover, the more I want to riff off.
The previous issue and this one used to be one long
chapter. Combined, they were over 2800 words, which went
way over my self-imposed 1500-word-ish per-issue limit.
Editor-me convinced writer-me to break them into two
separate issues, and writer-me now winces a bit at
both issues ending on the same beat.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Wil Alambre, follow me at http://twitter.com/wilalambre
"Hurry, uni-scribe! We have less than one space-hour to get to the
negotiating table before the Great Disaster arrives!" The desperate uni-diplomat paced back and forth in the room. He kept
looking at the space-clock, watching the moments tick away and
whinnying quietly under his breath. The light in the room was starting
to fade away as ominous clouds rolled in, covered up the twin suns. It
was as if the very planet understood the impending doom and was losing
"Very well, we agree. A tournament, then, to end this rampage. But you have witnessed the power at his disposal. He has a billion billion years of our science-sorcery at his command. Will all you great super-civilizations commit your super-champions to this?"
On a distant world, a mummy-robot and a brown-robed monk silently made their way to the center of a blasphemous cathedral. Though the robot lurched ungainly, it's servos making an uneven whirring sound as they moved the broken machine through black-stone hallways, it held it's bandaged head high, the ghostly
Cocytus the demon-glacier had the Super Wizard From Space engulfed in its icy grasp, forever to be a frozen prisoner of the ninth circle of Hell. Meanwhile the victorious Devil stood atop the massive field of ice, grateful to be back home. The Devil tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and just basked
On a filthy cobblestone hell-road outside the infinite walls of Double-Dis, the Super Wizard From Space stared up at the triumphant face of the Super-Devil. The monster's massive grin dribbled thick lava as he shouted out "Hey there, jerks! Welcome to Double-Hell!"
In the ruins of an ancient city of pillars, an alien octopus pointed eight dangerous looking ray-guns at a white-bearded hermit. "You best be giving me that there data-cylinder, Gavrilo, or I'll vaporize you right where you stand, I done swear it!"
Two figures hurtled through a scarred green warp tunnel underneath the skin of the universe toward the lost planet of the silver skull machine. The Super Wizard From Space was leading the way, encased in a cocoon of hard light that protected him from the rigors of space travel. His companion, a filthy bearded hermit,
The Super Wizard From Space and the Hermit Wizard From Space were trapped in an asteroid belt by a swarm of gigantic space-bees! As it's fellow drones circled uniformly, one particularly grusome space-bee broken from the formation. It was as massive as any of the drifting asteroids, it's gigantic yellow black body big enough to drag smaller free-floating
A monstrously giant bee made of hollow electricity used its clawed legs to peel open the hull of the crashed rocket-ship. It glowed brightly with a pale light, partially transparent and seemingly fragile as it opened up the armored cockpit as if it was made of tinfoil. The ship's two occupants didn't even have a moment to shake off the shock before
The two super wizards stood stock still as the two floors of the building above them were eaten by the ghost of a cosmic megalodon. Bigger than a rocket-ship, it nonetheless hung effortlessly in the air, it's fifty-five rows of cleaver-like teeth surrounding their room as it floated vertically above them. The daylight of the alien sky shone
I am Theodor. I am a rainbow blue fish. I lived on a planet far away. Then I died. But that is was not the end. That was the beginning. I became a ghost. I became part of the infinite school. Thanks to wise Rex. This is the story of Rex. He is big fish. A big shark. Many sizes big. From a far away blue
It took nearly every ghost fish of the infinite school to confidently herd Sharkasaurus Rex into the depths of the invisible galaxy. The megalodon's monstrous instincts were near impossible to fully understand, a hundred million space-years of predatory instinct and insatiable hunger. The spectral school's entire telepathic concentration
"Oh dear me!" shouted Brody Dharma to the marble diamond hall, his gecko eyes spinning in shock as the ghostly forms of Geisel and Theodor circled over the sticky yellow remains of Queen Buzz. "Fish! Please! Contain yourselves!" "Tyrant!" flared out Geisel angrily, telepathically sharing horrific
"Master hero! Master hero!" cried out the young boy, frantic enough to ignore his disciplined training. "A terrible occurrence! The infinite school have lost their hold on their grisly teacher! The cosmic crown reacted suddenly and cut off their psychic leashes! Sharkasaurus Rex is loose!". The young boy wildly rang the same small gong all the monks in this
Geisel was gone, his phantasmal form torn apart in savage fury by the recently de-crowned Sharkasaurus Rex. The equally ethereal Theodor watched the entire sudden rending in still shock. As did the rest of the infinite school, millions of fellow ghost fish that had all gathered to psychically leash the mighty megalodon.
"Sharkasaurus Rex is feeding on the simple people of this planet," said the
Super Wizard From Space, pointing to where a sticky-looking red hue spread in
the red mist for a space-minute before the fin moved on. "He's converting their
psyches into spiritual mass, growing exponentially. This incredible instrument
is our only hope."
He was lying on the ground. Still at the top of the mountain
monastery. Yes, he was certain of it. There was no mistaking. He
remembered the feel of these particular stones. And the scent of that
particular moss. But he could not remember how he had came here. It
was like his mind was rattling around in his head while at the same
time trying to swell larger than his skull could contain.
I warned him not to use the Gong Ago, as the volume required from that sacred instrument would have unintended side effects. But like an old mule wearing ragged blinders, he rung it out anyway. And that powerful pitch has freed me and my like-minded brethren. My name is Andy Dharma. I am the master villain of the Invisible Monks.
In a clearing at the center, a nine-foot lizards bowed respectfully to his duplicate. He dressed the same way. He moved with the same simple grace. He stood with the same relaxed posture. And he looked back at him with the same calculating eyes, measuring the short distance between them, judging the smallest of movements.
"You are unbalanczed. You cannot be truszted with coszmic power." Her hand closed into a fist and squeezed. From every direction, the spectral fish tossed out their determination in crisscrossing grey lines, trying to ensnare his mind.
"Andy, don't do this," whispered Brody, "You can't." "Yes I can! Yes I will!" he shouted back at him. "No more bad habits disguised as tradition! No more of yesterday's rules deciding today's fate! I will show you what change can accomplish!" He spat on the floor in disgust, and backflipped off the balcony.
On the side of a small lake, a simple man was fishing off the end of a rickety dock. The lake was usually a clear blue, filled with many delicious fish. It was not so now. It was murky, tinted pink and red, the fish preferring to stay closer to the bottom, where the water was cleaner and lines could rarely reach. It meant the man would be lucky for even a small catch, but that would be enough. He lived alone on this shore, in his cabin up the hill, and had only himself to feed.
He wiped his hands on his bloody apron, then stroked his long grey beard with a smile. It was with great experience that he could judge the quality and balance of a blade and in all the experience, he had never worked with such magnificent instruments.
A portion of empty space bubbled and bulged, like plastic melting in a fire, then peeled away to reveal the spitting green end of a warp tunnel. Wrapped and protected in a cocoon of pale starlight, the Super Wizard From Space blasted out of the tunnel opening at incredible speed. The wound in black reality mended behind him with a practiced flick of
Sharp super-lightening split across a sick dry sky as a lone yellow cab pulled up in front of a long abandoned university. The pale driver scratched at his unkept beard. Hunched over the steering wheel, he got a better look through the windshield at the derelict campus. "You sure this is where you wanna to be?" he gruffly asked the passenger in the back seat.
"I will not tolerate your
presence here. Nor your trickery. I will burn away every molecule. I
will crack every atom. I will unravel your infernal form down to the
minimalist components and grind the remains under my boot."
"Once upon a time, five dark lords of multiple underverses made the mistake of signing a series of magical contracts in an attempt to insure some level of trust between them. Inevitably, all five of them went back on their words and now the tangled wording of those contracts have trapped them in the stone sepulchres of Quinto-Hell."
The ashen remains of the gorgon sunk into the circling river of molten rock and disappeared down the sinkhole in reality, pulled toward the punishments of Triple-Hell. A bleating car horn sounded. The Devil tugged at the wizard's shoulder. "Come along, guv. Our ride awaits."
Somewhere in the dank musky darkness swamp, a single snapping growl was followed up by a chorus of hungry grumbles and hollers and howls. Jagged trunks of twisted trees creaked and cracked as something massive pushed through. Huge lungs filled up and expelled, making for a thunderous breathy bass echo.
Black glass and brittle shale and oddly shaped boulders all bashed against each other in the tornado ferocity of the space between conceptual realities. Every small piece was both nonexistant and an immense solidity to itself, dragging and throwing and colliding with its surroundings as the entire mess fell through infinite layers of fractal
Looking about, he could see endless desert interrupted by black stone squares, similar to the one they were taking refuge on. A long wind was blowing, picking up loose dunes, shifting them up and over and around in an ever-moving landscape. It gave everything a burnt look, a rising sea of sand that just faded without an horizon. The only thing cutting through the leather-colored sky was the sun, massive and oversized, ten times larger than it should be.
The Devil, The Secret Living Language, and the Super Wizard From Space stood upon a massive square of black stone half buried in blistering desert sands. "This is it, end of the line," the Devil announced.
In the seedy bowels of a seedy mining camp, Cephalo Paul roused from blurriness to found himself at the mercy of an unkindness of anthropomorphic ravens. The lot of them stood on four clawed talons, spoke through horrifying beaks lined with serrated edges, and had too many ruby-coloured eyes.
"My name is senior lieutenant Yuri Gigan Topithecus, last survivor of the once-mighty space-sasquatch race. I was a hero of my people and a triumph of my government, becoming the first of my planet to journey into outer space... and as I completed my first orbit in my prototype capsule, I helplessly watched the Super Wizard From Space destroy my world."
The Super Wizard From Space towed his wounded prisoner to a dying system in a lonely constellation. It was a place that had been full and vibrant when the universe was young, a very long time ago. Now, it's small, dense white star bled away its diminishing heat and weak light into empty space.
Across the vastness of galaxies, a nameless forager bee achieves a stable geosynchronous orbit with distant Planet M. The ladened insect has been in contact with appropriate representatives, has deposited it cargo. It now maintains a microwave relay with the surface, and only awaits permission from the Hive to open communications.
In the clarity of the desert night, a single point of light smolders against the blue-black curtain. And it slowly grows the closer it gets, falling toward Us through immense distances. The Super Wizard From Space is coming to Planet M.
Emperor gestures back to the great monolith and declares, "At-the-behest-of-our-electronic-ennead, I've-entombed-the-Super-Wizard-From-Space-within-the-Pyramids-Of-Ka! His-power-will-feed-our-preservation-batteries-for-countless-cycles."
"The Szuper Wizard From Szpace is sztill alive. And He sztill has Hisz coszmic crown." We say it aloud. Not to anyone. To ourselves, as swirling shaking thoughts become cold and real. This is real. This is happening. "Why? Why have you done thisz?"
If you'll indulge me, I'll tell you a story about how some people ( who were much too smart for their own good, I'm afraid ) tried to find an easy, quick solution; by doing so, they doomed countless lives to AGES of suffering.
Now, I was halfway through a tale about countless doomed lives... and yes, my friend, I do know the difference between 'countless' and 'seven'. Those tragic academics were only the first direct victims of these newly formed cosmic crowns. What happened next was intended to prevent more loss of life, but it actually placed the entire universe in peril.
Long spear-length stingers, glints of wet toxin at the tips. Wide crystal wings banging against torsos, making thrumming thunder. It's a *blanket* of angry buzzing. Getting thicker as they crawl over each other. At me. Looking to smother me. Kill me. If I'm lucky.
"What I'm doing, it has to be done. Because someone has to do it. Because no one else is doing it. They're scared of what might happen. Scared of what they could lose. Scared of things they can't change. We can't live like that."
Do you have any idea how this looks? We aren't at war anymore. The tournament is supposed to *prevent* this exact sort of conflict from flaring up again. You can't just go around dropping armies on the *home planets* of the universe's seven super-races."
His ancient race long ago unravelled the laws of physics, and they then learned how to redefine them. They harvest fusion fire to sustain themselves, and they hollow out suns to build their private strongholds. They are guardians of the spaces they know and explorers of the spaces they don't.
Reality stretches like canvas pulled taut. Time stutters and scratches and skips, between moments and months. The Wizard takes refuge within the umbra of the system's innermost planet, little more than a corner to be backed into.
Playing tour guide's certainly been more agreeable than playing babysitter. As far as pointless distractions go. If nothing else, its been interesting visiting old haunts, if only to see what's left of them.